Preview: Exit the Son

The charges against H.:

Count 1. government worker
Count 2. white male
Count 3. golfer
Count 3. unknown writer
Count 4. contrarian

A plea deal saves time, trouble and taxpayer money. A trial is decided by a jury of one’s peers, but peers are in short supply in H.’s enforced domicile of 30+ years. A bench trial is decided by a district judge, but H. has no confidence that a glorified courtier will hear the subtleties of his case. He requests a change of venue, choosing his birthplace for two reasons: as a delay tactic and for the symmetry of going out where he came in—in the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania in the County of Allegheny.

The Court in downtown Pittsburgh, dedicated in 1888, is one of the 19th century’s most acclaimed buildings. Although architect Henry Hobson Richardson’s Romanesque pile, whose exterior resembles a forbidding Norman keep, has been largely repurposed for use by politicians, justice can—who knows?—be found beneath its arches. H. thinks his case deserves a landmark setting, whatever opposing counsel might allege to the contrary. The Court contains a jail, an ominous pairing.

Course of Justice

Motion 1. The Entrance
Motion 2. The Tower
Motion 3. The Grand Lobby
Motion 4. The Grand Stair
Motion 5. Katy’s Park
Motion 6. Courtroom 321
Motion 7. The Bridge of Sighs
Closing Statements. Family Division, originally the Jail

The Entrance

H. lingers on Grant Street to give himself a final pep talk, then proposes a motto for the court’s arched entryway.

Sie sind verhaftet, gewiss, aber das soll Sie nicht hindern, Ihren Beruf zu erfüllen.

Der Aufseher

The German is a bow to his immigrant ancestors. Before entering, H. inscribes a translation for a make-believe brass plate beside the door:

You are arrested, certainly, but that should not hinder you from fulfilling your job.

The Overseer

H. wears black to show he understands the gravity of his situation. After sheriff’s deputies at the security checkpoint detect his bared bodkin and divot repair tool, two ununiformed courtiers approach him.

Sir, about your sentencing statement…You really want to go through with it? Our halls echo with the cries of people who did not drop their cases. ‘What possessed me? Is it too late to get out of it? O, to end it all!’ This way to the Tower, Sir.

H. has come prepared.

Objection!

He is overruled.

We have a responsibility to inform the public of its options–without crossing the line of providing legal advice. Follow us, Sir.

H. is led away.

The Tower

A red velvet cord like in a theater prevents admittance to the Tower. One courtier unlatches a brass hook, while the other signals H. to proceed first.

Watch your step, the ascent is not for the faint-hearted. 318+ feet up to a view that was breathtaking until the robber baron Henry Frick built one of his temples to the almighty dollar across the street, which also foreshortened the view of our facade. You’ll have to use your imagination to see the North Side, the stomping grounds of your paternal forebearers, or, as they knew it, independent Allegheny City before Pittsburgh annexed it in 1907.

H. is not surprised that his background has been checked. He is surprised that the deed is known to the very first employees he encounters and has been disclosed casually.

The Tower was intended as a repository. When we got tired of tripping over boxes of paper files, we interred some as originally planned, while the rest were shredded, per management orders, after being scanned. Your family’s cases may be around in their original state.

H. is unaware of family cases.

Pardon the state of the filing system, the absence of light and my sleeping colleagues. Yes, some of us live here. Stay near my candle. It’s our last one.

By the time the small party reaches the top, H. is out of breath.

Frick’s skyscraper and later ones ruin our panorama, otherwise we could see roughly where the Allegheny Social Club stands, if it has not been razed. Your paternal grandfather stayed there upon arrival from Germany. Later, your father earned money by selling rabbits to North Side restaurants. Later, one of your three brothers was born in Allegheny General Hospital. So, there you are, if you intend to raise family ghosts. Closer to ground zero, note the office workers across the street. The county’s electronic-chip program enables them to carry their implanted files with them. Again, watch your step. If you were to fall or jump…well, we don’t want any trouble.

On the way down, H. drops bait surreptitiously for his minders. After one sees the first dollar, both search for more. H. exits the dark tower, alone.

source texts
Der Prozess (The Trial) by Franz Kafka
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Catbird Seat by James Thurber

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University of Pittsburgh Library System Digital Collection